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Diseases & Conditions

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Treatment

What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program to help people with chronic pulmonary disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation is an individualized program that includes an initial assessment, patient education, exercise training, psychosocial assistance, and disease prevention.

Pulmonary rehabilitation has three major objectives:
  • Control and alleviate symptoms of respiratory impairment
  • Improve the quality of the patient's life
  • Optimize the patient's functional capacity

A physician, nurse or respiratory therapist will complete the initial assessment. The education portion instructs patients on how to deal with the effects of lung disease. Patients are taught breathing and cough techniques, stress and anxiety management, energy conservation, nutrition, and disease and symptom prevention. The exercise portion is individually tailored to meet the needs of patients. Exercise equipment used to increase endurance as well as strength and flexibility can include treadmills, stationary bikes, small weights or Thera-Bands®. Patients dealing with a chronic lung condition may also benefit from psychosocial assistance. Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs are 2 or 3 days per week for 6 to 10 weeks. The long-term goal is to determine how the patient may best maintain or improve the activities they have been taught in pulmonary rehabilitation.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a team approach that works to maximize strength and endurance, teach control techniques for shortness of breath, and increase independence. Rehabilitation is not a cure. However, it will give patients the ability to control their symptoms and to live more comfortably and effectively with their lung disease.

Who should have pulmonary rehabilitation?

Any person with a chronic lung disease might benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. Examples of lung conditions that may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation include COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis and other restrictive lung disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation also may better prepare patients undergoing chest surgery as well as help patients with post-surgery recovery.

How are patients chosen for pulmonary rehabilitation?

Any patient with symptoms of respiratory disease is a candidate for pulmonary rehabilitation. Rehabilitation programs are most effective when instituted while the disease is in a moderate stage. Patients with advanced lung disease, including those who are awaiting lung transplantation, show improvements from pulmonary rehabilitation.

Maximizing success of pulmonary rehabilitation

The biggest cause of poor results from pulmonary rehabilitation is a lack of motivation. Patients must make the effort during rehabilitation in order to see results. With effort, the patient's condition will improve, regardless of the stage of the illness. Illnesses such as heart disease and arthritis can hinder the success of rehabilitation as well. If you have a disabling disease, your pulmonary rehabilitation specialist will design a program specific to your needs.


American Lung Association, Midland States: Program Information: COPD: What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation? Accessed 2/2/2011

National Heart Lung and Blood Institutes. Diseases and Conditions Index. Lung Diseases: Pulmonary Rehabilitation. What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation? Accessed 2/2/2011

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/7/2010...#8904